“Southern Seen” and Dr. Larry T. McGehee

I was reading the New York Times today when it occurred to me that writing a blog is a great deal like writing a column in a newspaper.  Of course, when I thought of writing a newspaper column, I thought about my friend and mentor, Larry T. McGehee[1].  Dr. McGehee wrote a column entitled “Southern Seen” for a number of decades, and some of the best columns have been collected in this book.  I highly recommend it.  Many of the columns deal with theological topics, and while it may seem unintentional, I doubt it was.  All of the topics deal with the deep subjects of life.  I am not going on a tangent with this post,[2] for Dr. McGehee certainly lived out Micah 6:8.  You will see that as you read the tribute I wrote for Wofford’s newspaper after Dr. McGehee passed away.  Who are the people in your life who live out Micah 6:8 and have influenced your life?  Here is the tribute[3]:

This is Dr. McGehee with the book of his collected columns, “Southern Seen.”

You may not have known Larry McGehee, and even if you had seen the elderly man wearing the patchwork, madras coat walking through campus, or more likely driving through campus on his golf cart, you probably did not know him as Dr. McGehee.  However, we are all impacted by his loss.

I came to know Dr. McGehee soon after I arrived here at Wofford.  He recognized that I was someone in need of a friend and support, so we began having long talks in his office about nothing and everything in particular.  I come by his office at least once a month, more often bi-weekly, to have these conversations with Dr. McGehee about nothing and everything in particular, and they especially helped me through my very difficult sophomore year.  After each one, he was always sure to give me a long and big hug and tell me how he loved me.

Dr. Larry McGehee taught me the true meaning of friendship, especially about being friends to those who need it most.  After I found out that he had passed away, I remembered a passage from one of his columns, entitled “Birds,” in his book Southern Seen:  “It warns us that the institutions we build in order to tend to the work of the public square very often evolve and expand into layered bureaucracies which misplace their statements of original purpose.  If we forget the birds [individual people], soon we will forget each other” (22).  Dr. McGehee would not allow people to be forgotten at Wofford College, for he intentionally sought out people like me who needed a friend.  There are untold numbers of people like me who Dr. McGehee has befriended and mentored in the decades that he has taught and worked at Wofford College.

In this same column, Dr. McGehee talks about how the birds of his yard build their nests, or institutions, anew every year:  “Sometimes they use twigs and debris from the old nests, but they use them to make new ones” (22).  Wofford is growing and changing, and we should make certain that Dr. McGehee’s example and value in personal relationships is something that we take with us “from the old nest[].”  It is people like Dr. McGehee that create in Wofford one of its best characteristics, the close-knit community.

Dr. McGehee reflects on how he reached out to another “bird” in need of his assistance when at the end of this column he speaks of holding an unconscious hummingbird in his hands, and “[i]t suddenly awoke and arose,…and was gone.  But not really gone.  No one who has held a hummingbird is ever the same” (23).  I am not the same person I was before I met Dr. McGehee.  Although he is gone now, he is “not really gone,” for we who he has so affected, loved, and influenced are still here to carry on his legacy of not forgetting people in the bustle of life.  I, and others who he has so loved, will not forget Dr. Larry T. McGehee, but we will surely miss him and his love of life and friends.  Goodbye Dr. McGehee, and may those who now have the pleasure of your company cherish it every bit as much as we have.

[1] For those of you who know me and have wondered why a baseball is always in my backpack, Dr. McGehee gave it to me.  In his final years, his office was right behind Wofford’s baseball field.  He would wander out there and collect the foul balls.  He gave me that ball a few months before his death.

[2] I promise that I will go on tangents and off topic for this blog.  Simply put, this is my blog, and I will write about what I want.  J

[3] Keep in mind that I wrote this at the beginning of my junior year in college, so the writing style probably reflects that.


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